Hello Hello

Monday morning and here we are again. But the good news is I actually wrote something yesterday that wasn’t this blog and I haven’t done that since Before the Power Went Out. Granted, it wasn’t much of anything; a listicle of books I used as inspiration for Bury Me in Shadows and how their mood, style, voice and point of view helped me develop my own Gothic style for my own book. Bury Me in Shadows isn’t my first Gothic, of course; Sorceress, Lake Thirteen, Timothy, and The Orion Mask could all be considered Gothics (the latter two definitely more so than the first two; but the first two do have touches of Gothic in them).

But writing this listicle (and yes, I do hate that word but it works) got me thinking about Gothics in general, and what is/isn’t considered Gothic when it comes to literature (and no worries, Constant Reader–I refused to take the bait and name The Castle of Otranto, Dracula and all the others that inevitably turn up on these lists; I even left the Brontë sisters off my list); likewise, I often think about noir in the same way and what it is or isn’t (I maintain that Rebecca is noir to the heart of its dark soul), which makes reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night such a joy. Yes, I was able to sit down yesterday and spend some time with this delicious noir that is just as velvety in its writing as its title implies; it was after I walked to the gym on a beautiful late September Sunday and worked out, then walked home and had my protein shake, watching the end of the Saints game while sitting in my easy chair and reading. So, yes, yesterday was quite the marvelous day for one Gregalicious. Yes, I slept later than intended; but I made it to the gym, I wrote the listicle piece, and I spent some time reading. I really need to set aside at least an hour every day to spend reading; I’m not sure why I’ve had so much trouble reading since the power came back. But I have some amazing things in my TBR list I want to get to, and I definitely want to hit the horror/spec fic hard for October, to honor Halloween. Definitely want to reread The Haunting of Hill House again, perhaps grab one of those thick Stephen King first editions down from the shelf and dig into it, and there’s a Paul Tremblay on the shelves, waiting for me to read it. I can also get back into the Short Story Project for October–there’s no better short story writer to study than Stephen King, right, and I haven’t even cracked the spine of If It Bleeds.

Yes, that sounds like a great plan.

I also need to start working on the book I just signed a contract for that is now due in January. I haven’t settled on a pseudonym yet, but the book’s title is (pause for effect) A Streetcar Named Murder, and I am really looking forward to getting back into writing this again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and making lots of notes…I do think I am getting to the point where I am going to start writing fiction again, and regularly. I still feel more than a little bit overwhelmed, but it’s not as paralyzing as it has been Since The Power Went Out…but I am also aware, from past experience with this sort of shit, that it also goes from day to day and changes. Today may be a good day; yesterday certainly was, but it can also change on a dime at any moment.

We also finished watching Curse of the Chippendales after the Saints game–the final episode was a bit of a letdown–but the overall story was fascinating. I was more than a little surprised that none of the Chippendales dancers were gay–or certainly not the ones they interviewed, at any rate–because I would have sworn that several of them were; I mean, as I said to Paul while we were watching, “I find it really hard to believe none of these guys were gay–especially with worked out bodies at a time when the majority of men who did work out were gay.” Then again, it could be a stereotype, but I do remember when if someone looked like they worked out, the odds were in favor of them being gay. (While I am aesthetically very happy that gay body culture has crossed over into the mainstream with the result that even straight guys of all ages are working on keeping their bodies in shape, I do miss the days when a hot-bodied guy would catch my eye and I’d be able to think, ‘yeah, one of us most likely.’)

After that, we got caught up on Titans–I cannot emphasize how well Greg Berlanti’s television adaptations of the DC Universe are done–and then we started watching Midnight Mass on Netflix. It’s creepy and weird and sad and more than a little spooky; all I could think while watching was ugh how miserable it would be to live on that island…while I am not a fan of living in enormous metropolitan areas like New York or LA or San Francisco etc, I am also not a fan of living in little communities like the one depicted in this show. There’s such a claustrophobic, insular feel to living in small rural towns or communities that I don’t think I could stand for long. But it was a lovely, relaxing Sunday around the Lost Apartment (and the Saints won!), which was greatly appreciated by me at the very least.

And on that note, I should head into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

Let’s Have a Kiki

SATURDAY!!!!!

I’m not quite sure why I always am so excited about Saturdays rolling around; left over from childhood and not having to go to school most likely…which now has adapted into my adult life into I don’t have to work today! Of course, I do have to work today–writing and editing and revising, oh my–but I don’t have to be anywhere, nor do I have to do anything I don’t want to do. I am going to spend some time cleaning today (what else is new, it’s an on-going battle here in the Lost Apartment) and I am going to try to get slightly better organized as well (one can dream) and I am definitely spending some time with Razorblade Tears today. But I am feeling well rested this morning (hurray for better living through chemistry), and honestly think I can get everything I need to get done completed. Hope does spring eternal, does it not?

Last night we watched the final installment of the Fear Street trilogy, 1666, which was quite fun. I couldn’t help but love that a lesbian romance through the centuries was at the heart of the story; I am a sucker for those kinds of stories (I was thinking of Anya Seton’s terrific Green Darkness the entire time the movie was back in colonial times; that book has been an enormous influence on me and my writing, and one I don’t often think about)–where reincarnation and lives play themselves out in different times, with the souls going back to try again to get it right. I also remembered a wonderful old ABC Movie of the Week called Crowhaven Farm, with Hope Lange, that was also rooted in that reincarnation/different times trope–it terrified me as a child and I rewatched it a few years ago when it was up on Youtube–it doesn’t hold up as well as I might have hoped, but it’s still quite interesting…I’ve always loved both ghost stories and reincarnation stories, obviously.

Last night after we finished watching the movie (and now we have to decide what new to watch, as Happy Endings played out to its truly tragic end the other night), I transcribed “Wash Away Sins” into my desktop, making changes for the better as I went. It’s an interesting story, of course, but I also need to go back and read some of my old Alabama 1970’s stories to get a better feel for it, and to, of course, name the characters properly; I can’t remember the names of the characters from this time period in my Alabama tales, and there are getting to be enough of them now that I need to keep better track of them and keep my continuity going so there aren’t mistakes. (I really need to do an overall Scotty Bible, as well as one for Chanse; you never know when I might write another Chanse something, at any rate.)

I also remembered that I have an unpublished novella in my files somewhere; years ago I had written a lengthy sequel to Sorceress, but the small press that published Sorceress went out of business or something (the ebook of Sorceress is still up, but I don’t paid anything for sales, if there are any, and I don’t care enough to do anything about it–which is yet another reason why I always say it’s a wonder I have a career) but Spellcaster is just sitting there in my files, doing nothing….obviously Fear Street triggered my thinking about it because it was part of the linked y/a books I was doing along the lines of Stine’s series; set in Woodbridge, California (also where Sleeping Angel was set) and it wasn’t bad, I don’t think; the ending didn’t work and the characters were all straight kids, but I always thought I could go back and change the main character from a girl to a gay boy–he could be a cheerleader, just as she was–and maybe expand it out another twenty to thirty thousand words and voila–another novel finished.

I guess I’ll add that to my list of “books to get finished this year or next.”

I have to say, I really love my new phone, too. The sound quality when listening to Spotify is so much better than my old one, and the pictures are absolutely gorgeous and sharp and so forth; I may go take a walk around my neighborhood later this morning (and before I shower–no point in showering before going out into the heat and humidity of a July New Orleans Saturday; hey maybe I can get phô today!) and take some more pictures. I need to take full advantage of these last weekends before football season begins again, which is when I inevitably spend my weekends almost entirely in front of the television with games on all day–well, Saturday at any rate; I only watch the Saints on Sundays–and so the window of opportunities for working on the weekends is inevitably closing.

And on that note, I am going to close this and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader–no matter how you choose to spend it.

History Has Its Eyes On You

Ah, Independence Day.

That’s really what the 4th of July commemorates–the day the Continental Congress ratified, and began signing, the Declaration of Independence, when the thirteen British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard threw off the yoke of the King of England and his Parliament and said, nah, thanks–we’re going out on our own. It was extremely radical–particularly since the British Empire was the greatest power in the world since the end of the Seven Years’ War (to the colonials, the French and Indian War) in 1763; perhaps the largest empire to date in world history.

And yet…no rights for women and there was still slavery for another ninety-odd years, give or take.

Someday I will write an essay about American mythology and how I learned it as absolute truth as a child; American history (or rather, US history) was my gateway drug to world history. I should have gone into History as my major in college; it’s entirely possible that History rather than English (or business; I switched back and forth between the two for a very long time) might have garnered an entirely different result when it came to my academic career. But I also would have had to have picked a time to specialize in, and how on earth could I have ever decided? There were so many interesting periods…although inevitably, I tend to think my metiér would have been sixteenth century Europe.

Someday–probably after I retire–I am going to write A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I actually slept late, of all things; I cannot remember the last time that happened, and thus got a rather late start to my day. I started cleaning up around the house, and organizing things, but again–a late start kind of threw me off my game a bit, and I didn’t get near enough done that I had wanted to get done. I did read a couple of short stories for the Short Story Project, and I also read some more of Robyn Gigl’s wonderful By Way of Sorrow; that was lovely. I also listened to some Bette Midler albums on Spotify (joking on Facebook that I was doing my part to break down gay stereotypes by doing so); in particular I listened to It’s the Girls and Bette Midler, before moving on to Liza with the Cabaret soundtrack, and the little known sequel to Rocky Horror soundtrack, Shock Treatment, and then moved on to the Pet Shop Boys. I made meatballs in the slow cooker for dinner, and then we watched Fear Street 1994 (which was remarkably fun), then a few episodes of High Seas (which is really fun) and a few episodes of Happy Endings before bed.

R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, who were hugely successful writers of young adult suspense/mystery/horror in the 1990’s, actually had an influence on me as a writer, surprisingly enough. I read most of their novels when I lived in Tampa back in the day (I actually preferred Pike, to be honest), and I actually wrote three novels–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–for young adults during that time. I had always intended to do the Fear Street thing–where the books were all connected somehow and minor characters in one would become the lead characters in another–and spread them across the country, as opposed to one town, as Stine had done; mine would be scattered between Kansas, California, Chicago, and Alabama (one of those ideas became Dark Tide and another Bury Me in Shadows). Then I discovered, through Paul, gay mysteries and all those ideas went into a drawer, along with those manuscripts, and I started creating Chanse and his world, and what eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Fear Street 1994 is a lot of fun, as I said, both a mystery, a slasher film, and horror–the main romantic story is a lesbian love story, which was very cool–and it also slightly involved class differentials between the town of Shadyside (often called Shittyside) and it’s wealthier, preppy neighbor, Sunnyvale. It was a fun homage to Scream as well, and it was clever, witty, and quite a fun ride. I do recommend you watch it, if you like those kinds of movies. Nothing deep, but lots of fun, and now I can’t wait for the next part of the trilogy, which drops this Friday: Fear Street 1978.

I did try writing yesterday, without much luck, logging in less than a thousand words. But rather than despairing, as I am wont to do (Oh no! I knew I was breaking my momentum!), I chose to understand and recognize that the scene I was writing needed to be set up better–which was why it wasn’t working–and it needed more than just the cursory slide over I was giving it. I am going to open the document back up later this morning–probably after getting another load of laundry finished, and emptying the dishwasher–and scroll back a bit to start revising and getting into the story again. There really is such a thing as thinking too much about what you’re writing; that’s when the door to doubt starts to open a crack and Imposter Syndrome starts saying pssst through that open crack in the door.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe 4th of July, Constant Reader!

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

Afterglow

And just like that, here we are at Friday again. It’s going to be a very strange fall weekend, since we have no LSU game, but they do occasionally have bye weeks, so I guess that’s how I should look at this particular weekend. The Saints have an early game on Sunday, though, so that should be relatively normal. The question is, should I wait to run my errands until Sunday during the Saints game? I mean, Sunday mornings are the best for making groceries already because everyone’s at church, so the one-two punch of church and the Saints playing should mean abandoned aisles and a quick, easy trip. Decisions, decisions.

We’ve been having a quite marvelous cold spell this week–cold for New Orleans, of course, which means June-type weather for most of you–and so I’ve been sleeping most marvelously, which has been lovely, and of course the three-day-per-week getting up early thing has been sending me to bed earlier than I usually go, and the getting up early hasn’t been quite as awful as it once was. Is this a permanent, lasting change to my body clock? We shall have to see how it goes from now on, but it’s not a bad thing. Maybe even on the days when I don’t have to get up that early I should go ahead and get up if I wake up organically at six; more time in the morning to get things done, really, and going to bed early isn’t a terrible thing.

Remember me talking about flexibility? Maybe it’s time to start getting up every morning at six, getting emails answered, and then move on to doing some writing. Adaptability–something I’ve stubbornly been resisting all the time–is never a bad thing, and maybe part of the issues I’ve been having this year have affected me, mentally, in ways I didn’t even think about. Usually I do exactly that; I adapt to my situation and figure out ways to get everything done and stay on top of things. I’ve really not been doing a very great job of that this year, and why have I been so resistant to adapting and changing my habits and routines? Sure, I’m fifty-nine, and it’s a lot easier when you’re younger to change your habits and routines, but you shouldn’t become so mired in them at any age that you can’t change.

Yesterday’s entries in this month’s horror film festival were a rewatch of Christine (adapted by John Carpenter from one of my favorite Stephen King novels) and a wonderful old British 1970’s horror film, The House That Dripped Blood.

Christine is one of those King novels that made me roll my eyes when I first heard about it; “really? A haunted car?” (For the record, after reading Christine, I vowed I would never roll my eyes at the concept of a King novel again–because not only did it work, it was fucking terrifying.) Christine is another King novel that could be classified and sold as a y/a; it’s about teenagers, and the special kind of hell life can be for some teenagers. The empathy with which he wrote Arnie Cunningham, and the obvious love his best friend Dennis had for him, was the primary force that drove the book, and I also owe Christine an enormous debt of gratitude (but that’s a story for another time) as a writer myself. I saw the film version in the theater when it was released, and to this day, the book remains one of my favorite Kings and the movie, which had to take some liberties with the novel, is one of my favorite King adaptations. It’s flawed, of course, and isn’t nearly as good as the book, but it also holds up after all this time as well. It was directed by John Carpenter, and while it’s not one of his better movies, it’s a good one. Keith Gordon plays Arnie, John Stockwell plays Dennis, and Alexandra Paul plays Leigh, the girl who both boys wind up interested in–all three are fresh-faced and appealing, and I never really understood why none of them had bigger film careers. (The only other film of Keith Gordon’s I recall is him playing Rodney Dangerfield’s son in Back to School, which undoubtedly hasn’t aged well.) The primary difference between film and novel is in the movie, it is the car, Christine, herself that is evil; there’s an opening as she is coming off the line in Detroit in 1957 and already has a taste for blood; in the book, it was never really clear whether the car itself was evil, or if Roland LeBay, the first owner, somehow infused the car with his rotted soul–in either case, the reader comes away from the book unsure of what the source of evil was, and I think that was better served; also, in the book we could see Arnie’s point of view, and Arnie himself, like Carrie in Carrie, was much more of a victim than it appeared in the film.

The House That Dripped Blood was from Amicus Studios in the UK, rather than a Hammer Studios picture, and was written by the great Robert Bloch, best known for writing the novel Psycho. It’s an anthology film–I really miss the terrific old horror anthology films; Amicus and Bloch teamed up for another one of my favorites, Asylum; Stephen King and George Romero tried to revive the form in the 1980’s with their Creepshow collaborations–and includes both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in its cast. There are four stories included in the film–I don’t know if Bloch based them on his own short stories or not–about tenants in this particular large country house in England. The film opens with the arrival of an inspector from Scotland Yard, investigating the disappearance of a film star who’d been renting the house, and the rental agent for the house tells the inspector the stories. The first is about a novelist writing about a psychopathic killer named Dominick that he starts seeing everywhere; the second is about a man who becomes obsessed with a wax figure in a wax museum in the nearby town; the third is about a father and daughter who engage a governess, but are harboring a dark secret; and the final story is about the actor, who is major horror film star (and a bit of a diva) who buys a cloak for the vampire film he is making and becomes convinced that the cloak belonged to a vampire–and is also turning him into one. I had never seen this film before, and had always wanted to; I remember it being advertised in the paper when I was a kid, and it’s now free for streaming on Prime. It’s not bad–the production values were low (hilariously, the diva actor in the fourth segment complains about how low budget is on the film he is making, which is why he is going looking for a cloak in the first place), and the acting isn’t bad; you can really never go wrong with either Cushing or Lee, frankly. Asylum is definitely a better film, but I enjoyed The House That Dripped Blood but probably won’t watch it again.

As for the debt I owe Christine, that’s a little bit more complicated. I moved to Tampa in 1991 for two reasons: to restart my life and start living openly as a gay man, and to get away from my old life after a two-year transition in Houston and to start a new one, one that included me pursuing writing seriously for the first time. I had been writing all of my life at this point–I still have the first novel I completed, in long hand and never typed up, and had had bursts of short story writing throughout the 1980’s–but I wanted to start really taking it seriously, and trying to get better, and actually trying to get published. I bought an inexpensive word processor that summer–not a computer, it’s only functionality was as a word processor, and you could save your documents to a floppy disc as well as print them out on what was essentially a typewriter–and since I was at the time thinking about writing horror, I decided to take some of the framework of the handwritten book (and some of the characters, and the town) and write a horror novel about teenagers, from the perspective of an adult looking back at what happened in high school. The book opened with the main character getting an invitation to the ten year reunion, and we learn he left for college and never went back. He starts remembering high school–and the course of the novel is the story of what happened and why he’s never gone back (a concept I’ve returned to numerous times). And while the bulk of the story was going to be about high school and teenagers, I didn’t see it as a book for teens–and I was following the same book structure as Christine, right down to the framing device of the memory chapters bookending the beginning and the end. I was even going to write the first part in the first person, before switching to multiple third person points of view in the second half. I was about five or so chapters into the book when I discovered young adult horror fiction, notably Christopher Pike, and realized this book–and the two I was planning to write after–would work better if written for teens and removing the framing device. I did do the first part in first person, and switched halfway through to multiple third person POV; this was what later served as the first draft of Sara. I started remembering all of this as I rewatched Christine yesterday; as well as a lot of other things I had thought about and planned back in the early 1990’s when I wrote the first drafts of Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel.

It’s chilly in New Orleans this morning–we’re having that vaunted cold spell, which means it’s a frigid 68 degrees–and I am taking a vacation day today to try to get caught up on things, plus errands. Scooter has to go to the vet for a blood glucose level test, and I have to take Paul to Costco so he can order new glasses, and then I have prescriptions to pick up and on and on and on. I need to proof my story in Buried, I need to revise my story “The Snow Globe,” the Lost Apartment is a scandalous disaster area, and I need to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows. There’s also about a gazillion emails I need to read and answer…it seriously never seems to end, does it?

But Scooter clearly feels better–he’s back to knocking over the trash cans and pushing things off surfaces to the floor, his eyes are brighter and more alert, and he seems more energetic; he’s running up and down the stairs rather than meandering, like he had been–and I am hopeful we will soon be able to take him off the insulin. But I’ve gotten so used to giving him the shot twice a day I don’t really notice it that much anymore, and it doesn’t phase either of us at all. He’s also a lot more cuddly than he has been, and more affectionate–which is also kind of hard to believe; I hadn’t really noticed that he wasn’t as affectionate as he had been.

It’s so lovely that it’s cold enough for me to wear sweatshirts again! I love sweatshirts, frankly; my favorite attire is sweats, and I hate when it’s too warm or humid for me to wear one. I am even thinking I might need to turn off the ceiling fans (!!!). Madness! I am really looking forward to getting home from these errands, getting into my sweats, and relaxing as I get things done all day–and I”m really looking forward to tonight’s sleep.

And now it’s off to the errands. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

The Long Run

Not only do I write two private eye series, erotica, and the occasional stand alone,  I also, sometimes, write what’s classified as young adult fiction. I have not published anything that could remotely be considered y/a in quite a while, and therein lies a tale (I think the last book I published that could be considered “young adult” was Dark Tide; I could be wrong. I no longer remember when and in what order my non-series books came out).

To be clear, the fact that I even call those books “y/a” even though I don’t really think of them as young adult fiction is a marketing thing, really; in my mind, they’re simply novels I wrote about teenagers. I started writing about teenagers when I actually was one; the stories I wrote in high school weren’t bad, for a teenager, and were the first indication–from my fellow classmates, and my English teacher–that I could seriously become a published writer if I chose to try to do so; the utter lack of seriousness my writing aspirations received from my family was kind of soul-crushing. But I always wanted to write about teenagers, from the very beginnings; I wanted to do my own Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style series, and then progressed to other stories.

I progressed as a reader pretty quickly when I was growing up; I went from the series books, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Scholastic Book Club mysteries, to Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen when I was around eleven or twelve, if not younger; I know I read both Gone with the Wind and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots when I was ten. The few books I read that were considered “children’s books” (there was no such thing as young adult fiction then) were books like The Outsiders and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and I did enjoy them; I just didn’t think of them as either being particularly authentic or realistic. Nor did they have any bearing on my life, or the lives of my friends–I viewed them like youth-oriented television shows like The Brady Bunch, existing in some bizarre alternate universe that has no basis in actual reality or what those of us who were that age were actually experiencing. I always thought there was something missing–complicated and authentic books about the lives of real teenagers and the real issues they faced everyday, without getting into the insanity of the preachy-teachy “issue” books that usually wound up as ABC After-school Specials, which I loathed. 

Not all “issue books” were bad, in all fairness; some, like Lisa Bright and Dark, about a girl struggling with mental illness whose parents refused to face their daughter’s reality, so her friends tried to help her by serving as amateur psychologists, and  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl in a mental hospital dealing with her illness were actually quite good. But I loved books like The Cheerleader, about a poor girl in a small New England town with ambitions and dreams that far exceeded those of most of her friends…dealing with issues of popularity, sex, and first love.  David Marlow’s Yearbook was also a favorite, and while not marketed to kids, was about high school, but had some themes and plot-lines considered far too heavy for teens to digest in the 1970’s. You can also see it in the pap that was considered movies for teenagers; G-rated bubble-gum like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and inevitably came from Disney and starred Kurt Russell. (These movies are an interesting time capsule; I did try to watch one of them recently on Disney Plus and didn’t last three minutes in that squeaky clean, sex-free college environment.)

(Also, I would like to point out at this time there were terrific books being published in the 1970’s for teens that dealt with major issues and were groundbreaking; Sandra Scoppetone was writing about queer teens back then, and there were some others doing terrific work at the time–I just wasn’t aware of those books until much later.)

My first three young adult novels–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara–were written as first drafts in the early 1990’s, put in a drawer, and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Sorceress  had no queer content in it at all; it was my version of the truly popular trope of romantic/domestic suspense where an orphaned girl goes to live in a spooky mansion far away from her old life (Jane Eyre, Rebecca, almost everything written by Victoria Holt), and slowly becomes aware that everything in the house isn’t as it seems. It was a lot of fun to write–I loved those books and I loved putting a modern spin on them. Sleeping Angel’s first draft was never completed, and the published version is vastly different than what the original first draft contained; there are still some vestiges of the original plot there in the book that are never truly explained, and by the time I realized, after many drafts, that I hadn’t removed those vestiges from the book it was too late to do anything about it other than hope no one noticed. The book did well, won an award or two, and is still a favorite of my readers, according to what I see on social media. One of the things I added to the story was a queer subplot about bullying, which is what I think readers truly responded to, and I also feel like adding that to the story in addition to the other changes I made to it made it a stronger book. Sara was always intended to have gay characters and a gay plot; I originally started writing it as a novel for adults and realized, over the course of writing it, that actually the teenage story was the most interesting part and I could deal with some issues there if I switched the focus of the book to the teenagers. One thing that changed from the 1991 first draft to the draft that was published is that the character I originally had being bullied for being gay, even though he wasn’t (another character, one of the biggest bullies, actually was), was actually not only gay but had come out, and so the book also talked about the reverberations of a popular football coming out, and what impact that had on the school social structure and hierarchy.

Sara, incidentally, is one of my lowest selling titles–which also kind of breaks my heart a little bit.

Since those three, there have been others I’ve written–Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide–and I’ve also dabbled in what is called “new adult fiction”–books about college-age or just out of college-age characters–this is where The Orion Mask and Timothy and the current one I’m working on, Bury Me in Shadows, fall on the marketing spectrum.

One of the questions I had to deal with in writing young adult novels with queer content was the question of sex. I had already been through being banned in Virginia because I had written gay erotica (a really long story that I revisited recently with Brad Shreve on his podcast; I really do need to write in depth about the entire experience); what would happen if ‘notorious gay porn writer’ Greg Herren began writing fiction specifically aimed at teenagers? But the truly interesting thing about being used as a political pawn by the right-wing fanatics in the power games they play is that once they’ve made use of you, they forget about you and move on. My young adult fiction was released without a single complaint, protest, or any of the sturm und drang that my speaking at a high school to a group of queer and queer-supportive youth created scant years earlier.

Interesting, isn’t it?

And yet…there is no sex in any of those books. None. I don’t  remember my gay teens even getting a chaste kiss, let alone a sex life, or fantasies, or a boyfriend.

And what about desire?

A couple of years ago someone tagged me on Facebook on an article about just that very subject; that was when I started writing this post (three yeara ago, looks like) but I never finished writing this until this morning.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, welcome back. Some interesting points, no?

Now, check out this one. 

I know, it’s a lot of information to process, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, particularly as the calls for diversity in publishing and popular culture continue. Sex is, quite obviously, a touchy subject when it comes to young adult fiction, but when it comes to questions of sexuality and being a sexual minority, what is too much and what is not enough? Even depictions of straight sexuality is frowned on and controversial when it comes to young adult fiction. (For the record, that is also considered the case for crime fiction–no explicit sex scenes–or at least so I was told when I was first getting started; doubly ironic that my mystery series were what the right-wing Virginian fanatics considered porn–I really do need to write about that.)

I also have noticed the elitism evident in hashtags like #ownvoices and #weneeddiversevoices that have come and gone and return periodically on Twitter; those actively involved in promoting those tags, when it comes to queer books, make it abundantly clear they only care about those published by the Big Five in New York–which is a good target, I agree, and they do need to be doing better when it comes to diversity and “own voices” work–but this focus also ignores the small presses, particularly the queer ones, who have been doing this work all along and making sure queer books were still being published for all ages and getting out there and made available to those who want and need them. I am absolutely delighted to see queer books by queers being published by the Big 5, and young adult work in particular…and yet…there are some serious issues still with the Big 5–and with what is called ” young adult Twitter”.

I do find it interesting to see who they decide are the “cool kids” and who they banish to the outer tables with the freaks and geeks.

It’s part of the reason I don’t engage with young adult twitter, to be honest. I really have no desire to return to the high school cafeteria at this point in my life.

And I’ll write about teenagers whenever there’s a story I want to tell involving teenagers–which currently is the Kansas book; I turned my protagonist in Bury Me in Shadows into a college student because it actually works better.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. (And huzzah for finally finishing this post!)

End Game

I’m really becoming a huge fan of Paul Tremblay.

I’ve always enjoyed horror, ever since I was a kid; I used to love watching Creature Features on WGN in Chicago, and getting scared–sometimes having nightmares. But the supernatural has always interested me, as well as horror; in the 1980’s and even into the early 1990’s I saw myself as becoming a horror writer rather than a crime writer. And while I’ve written some “scary” stories and novels, I don’t know that I could classify them as horror– I think Sara and Sorceress are probably the closest I’ve ever come to writing horror; maybe even Lake Thirteen would count (it certainly bears my favorite cover of all my novels). But I see myself as more of a fan of horror than a writer of it; as I’ve said many times, I tend to write more about human monsters than supernatural ones. I had heard great things about Paul Tremblay before I started reading his actual work; my friend Megan in particular is a big fan of his, and based on her recommendation I started reading A Head Full of Ghosts, but it didn’t really strike my fancy that first time, and so I put it aside and moved onto something else. I did pick it up again later, and then, of course, I couldn’t put it down.

After finishing The Coyotes of Carthage, I was looking through the TBR piles, pulled out a book or two before putting them back, and then finally decided to read a second Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World.

It was a most excellent choice.

The girl with the dark hair walks down the wooden front stairs and lowers herself into the yellowing lagoon of ankle-high grass. A warm breeze ripples through the blades, leaves and crab-like petals of clover flowers. She studies the front yard, watching for the twitchy, mechanical motion and frantic jumps of grasshoppers. The glass jar cradled against her chest smells faintly of grape jelly and is sticky on the inside. She unscrews the aerated lid.

Wen promised Daddy Andrew she would release the grasshoppers before they got cooked inside the homemade terrarium. The grasshoppes will be okay because she’ll make sure to keep the jar out of direct sunlight. She worries, though,, that they could hurt themselves by jumping into the sharp edges of the lid’s punched-in holes. She’ll catch smaller grasshoppers, ones that don’t jump as high or as powerfully, and because of their compact size there will be more leg-stretching room inside the jar. She will talk to the grasshoppers in a low, soothing voice, and hopefully they will be less likely to panic and mash themselves against the dangerous metal stalactites. Satisfied with her updated plan, she pulls up a fistful of grass, roots and all, leaving a pockmark in the front yard’s sea of green and yellow. She carefully deposits and arranges the grass in the jar, then wipes her hans on her gray Wonder Woman T-shirt.

Ironically, in my earlier paragraphs I talked about writing crime because I want my monsters to be human; ironically, the monsters in Paul Tremblay’s latest, sublime entry into the horror genre could easily be considered a crime thriller as well because his monsters are all too human, and this set-up is just as terrifying as any supernatural horror novel I’ve ever read. Being out in the country has never really appealed to me very much (ironically, my current work-in-progress is set out in the country) precisely because it’s no safer out in the country than it is in the city; at least in the city someone will hear your screams or cries for help. The very isolation of the country is part of its terror for me; in no less part because country people always smugly assert (and reassure themselves) that crime and murder are MUCH more likely to happen in the big, bad, dangerous city.

Sidebar: I still think there’s a terrific essay to be written about the proliferation of rural horror/crime novels in the 1970’s, directly tied to the inherent racism of white flight from integrated schools and neighborhoods to the suburbs and the country, and perhaps someday I will have the confidence to write the essay based on that abstract theme.

Tremblay has set his terrifying tale in a small cabin on a lake in upstate New Hampshire, close to the Canadian border, where our heroes–a married gay couple (Andrew and Eric) are spending a ‘back-to-nature’ vacation with their adopted child, Wen. The story is told in the present tense (always creepier in horror, seeing the action unfold as it happens rather than in the much safer past tense–it’s happening as opposed to it’s already happened) and the point of view shifts between the two dads and their young daughter. Wen is out on the lawn catching grasshoppers and naming them when a big man appears suddenly out of the woods, friendly and nice, he tries to win her over but ultimately fails, sending her running inside to warn her daddies that they are no longer alone in their rustic cabin–with no cell service and no wi-fi (which, ironically, was part of the cabin’s original appeal–to unplug; that appeal will righteously bite the in their ass now that a Dionysian influence has arrived in their idyllic world).

The big man, Leonard, isn’t alone; he has three friends with him, all wearing similar button-down shirts in different colors and jeans: Redmond, kind of an asshole every-straight-man; Sabrina, a nurse; and Adriane, who is older. As the three family members barricade themselves into the cabin, the four seemingly normal visitors let them know they are there to present them with a horrible, horrific choice: they have seen, in visions and dreams, that the apocalypse is nigh, but have been shown the cabin and the small family, and told that if one of them will voluntarily sacrifice himself, the end of the world will be stopped.

This is, of course, every parent’s worst nightmare: a threat to not only their family but to their child, and Tremblay does an amazing job of letting us, the readers, get to know all three of the family members, developing them into complicated, realistic characters with backstories and levels and layers; I also applaud him for writing about a same-sex family and making the characters absolutely real. (This is how you do it, people; read the book and take notes). Wen is completely believable as a little girl; the family bond and love is absolutely real; and that makes the horror even more horrible, more horrifying, more of a gut-punch…as we go through every step of the process with them, all over the course of less than twenty-four hours, as their lives are irrevocably altered and changed, as they refuse to believe the story of their visitors, but slowly but surely the wonder begins to creep in…what if this is absolutely real and they are indeed messengers from God?

I will leave it to the horror academics to discuss the symbols and symbolism threaded throughout the story–but I have to bring up the colors of the shirts the visitors are wearing, and the fact there are four of them: representing the four horsemen of the apocalypse along with their warnings of doom. The questions of faith, of existing as gay in a heterosexist society, of family and love–all of these are beautifully explored and written about, and the building of tension and suspense is unparalleled; it’s really hard to put the book down and walk away from the story without finding out how it all ends–will they make the sacrifice, or will the world end? Are the visitors right–and how will anyone ever know if they were, because the world not ending doesn’t prove anything if the sacrifice occurs.

Or are they just insane?

I highly recommend this book, and cannot wait to read more Tremblay.

Tonight is Forever

Well, it’s more like weeks are forever in this pandemic-riddled world in which we live these days, but onward we go.

As I often say–and you may perhaps be tired of hearing–the best writing and the best television/films always somehow give me inspiration–whether it’s to do better as a writer myself, or with story ideas. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, as previously mentioned, has flooded me with memories of life in suburbs and in California ones, specifically. I’ve never done a lot of writing about California–the Frat Boy books are my primary novels set in California, and both Sorceress and Sleeping Angel are also set there (the latter, though, are set in a small town in the mountains rather than a small city, like Fresno, which is what I converted to the small city of Polk in the first two Frat Boy books; the coastal small city in the final Frat Boy novel is based on Santa Barbara)–so maybe I’ve done more writing than I would have initially thought about California. But I’ve never done anything suburban in California, I guess, which is the correct way of phrasing that.

And as I said to my friend Megan once, what is more noir than the suburbs?

I did finish reading Cottonmouths finally last night; more on that later, but for now I will say it is wonderful. I greatly enjoyed it, and I am really excited to sink my teeth into Blacktop Wasteland now.

I also decided to change the title of “After the Party” to “A Dirge in the Dark,” which is creepier. I didn’t like that original title, and this was a most unusual story for me in that I had started writing something that not only didn’t have a title, but one didn’t leap out at me–and for me to save the document I needed to name the file. I know, it’s insane, but that’s just how my mind works around here in the Lost Apartment; I think I have two folders in my entire computer that are “untitled noir story” and “untitled haunted house story”; which really tells me nothing so when I go in search of the files to work on them some more I would never find them–especially if I had about a million other folders with “unnamed” in the title somewhere.

Today is my work at home day–one of two–which is nice, which means I don’t need to shave or even shower, if I don’t want to–but I probably should, as it always makes me wake up and feel better just in general. I’m a bit groggy this morning, certainly more groggy than I have been the last two mornings–which is NOT a good sign by any means–but I am hoping the coffee will take care of that. I’ve not had a good deep sleep now for several nights running–I have slept, but I’ve not gone deep into the sleep; I wake up sporadically and then it takes me a while to get back to sleep, and I noticed, for example, yesterday that my legs were tired when I was climbing the steps in the house. I am sure a lot of this had to do with lack of physical activity since my gym closed, but with our cases going up again here in New Orleans (thanks, stupid people!) I am pretty confident the city is going to be shutting back down almost completely again soon, and it simply doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend the money to join a gym that may only be open again for a few days.

I guess I can start stretching here at home, doing crunches and pushups and weightless squats. It’s a thought–and seriously, anything that will help me to sleep better is certainly going to be welcomed.

It’s just so disappointing because I was really making progress at the gym before it closed for good.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, one and all.

West End Girls

Well, we made it to Wednesday, did we not? It’s also Payday, aka Pay-the-Bills Day, which of course is always a popular day around here–NOT.

But I managed to write another 1300 words yesterday on something–not Bury Me in Shadows, I am putting that off until the weekend, when I will have time to sit down and reread the entire manuscript (I am already rewriting the first chapter in my head; it’s main character is transitioning from a high school student to a college student suffering from depression); instead I had a thought about a bunch of fragments, ideas and the occasional scene, of a something that needs to be stitched together and an ending tacked onto it called “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” which I’ve been fragmentally writing for several years now. It’s a Corinth County, Alabama story; set in the distant past of the mid to late (vague, will depend on the music choices) 1970’s, in the point of view of a thirteen year old. I don’t quite have the voice or tone right yet; that’s going to have to wait until I have the entire thing stitched together. It’s already well over 6000 words and I did originally think it might be the seeds of a novel, but I don’t think there’s really quite enough story to flesh out a novel but a length of somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand might just be right for it. My publisher does publish ebook novellas, and that might be the right place for it–plus it can always go into the anchor position of a collection.

It’s weird to feel so good about so many things.

I was hesitant to write the story, because I’ve already gone to that well twice already–“Smalltown Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man”–but I have also realized all of my stories don’t necessarily need to be connected, but there’s also a way at some point to connect all of these stories together. I’m not certain why I am always so determined to connect my stories together; my young adults–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara, Lake Thirteen and others–are all loosely connected; I’d wanted to do an entire series of young adult horror/suspense that were connected together by threads; Laura in Sorceress was from the same place in Kansas where Sara took place; one of the characters in Sara was from the Chicago suburb the main character of Lake Thirteen was from; and of course, both Sleeping Angel and Sorceress took place in the same California mountain town. There’s another I’ve written that’s been languishing forever in a drawer that is also set in Woodbridge, and I keep forgetting about it, to tell you the truth. This is why I had that OCD moment a few weeks back and counted how many things I had in progress, in a vain attempt to get a handle on it all.

I suppose I could create a spreadsheet. But Lord, another thing to do? Then again, it could keep me from writing–that weird dichotomy of hating to do something I actually love to do. I am sure my great mood lately has everything to do with having written, and doing good work recently; I actually am looking forward to getting all my work done today so I can dive back into the story. I’d love to have it finished by the weekend, but I don’t necessarily have to have it finished in order to start the reread of Bury Me in Shadows; with the sweeping changes I am going to making to it, it will be mostly to see what I can actually keep and still works with the age changes for the main character.

We are almost finished with Dark Desire, and I have to say I am quite impressed with the writers of this show; it has so many twists and turns! Every time we start to think we know what the truth is we get shocked by an out-of-nowhere twist, and the personal stories are so complicated and messy! We had started to get a little bored with it around the sixth or seventh episode (maybe?) because it seemed relatively predictable; boy, were we ever wrong! Tonight we’ll polish off the last four episodes–they are only about thirty-three minutes long–and then we’ll have to decide what to watch next. There are so many choices!

It seems like it was just yesterday we were complaining about the trouble finding something we wanted to watch–but realitically, I was just thinking last night how we’ve watched so much stuff we can’t even remember it all.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely morning, Constant Reader.

Always

Kansas.

We moved to Kansas the summer I turned fifteen. It was a bit of culture shock; we’d been living a middle-to-upper middle class suburb of Chicago for about four years then, after spending eight or nine years in a working-class, very blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago, populated primarily with eastern European immigrants, or second, maybe third, generation Americans from central to eastern Europe. All I really knew about Kansas, before moving there, was that it had been a part of the Dust Bowl during the depression; I’d read about “bleeding Kansas” in history books; and of course, tornadoes and The Wizard of Oz (which is a movie I’ve never cared for; I watched it once as a kid and never again). Neither Nancy Drew nor the Hardy Boys ever had an adventure there; nor had any of the other kids’ series or Scholastic Book Club mysteries I’d read. But it was in Kansas that I actually started writing seriously, and began to think about being a writer when I grew up. (It was also in Kansas that I had the bad creative writing professor, and other bad history professors; I actually cannot think of a single decent teacher I had at the university level in Kansas–but then again, I was incredibly miserable when I lived in Kansas and it’s entirely possible that misery bled over into every other aspect of my life.)

I also don’t want to make it seem as though the five or so years I spent there were completely miserable. I did have fun–I was always desperately trying to have fun to distract me from the terror that arose from my sexuality, which was a secret that must be guarded from everyone at all times; it’s laughable to think about it now, but that terror was very real to me then.

It was in Kansas I started writing about teenagers, and while none of that stuff I’d written was publishable–I still have the handwritten novel I started writing there somewhere; the thought of rereading it turns my stomach as I can only imagine how incredibly bad, trite, and cliched it all was–but those characters have lived on and appeared in my actual published work as an adult; primarily I kept the character names and the basis of who they were, fleshing them out and (hopefully) making them three dimensional. Sara is, to date, the only book I’ve published that is set in Kansas; Laura, the main character in Sorceress, is also from Kansas–but the book is set in California. And of course I’ve been playing with the Kansas book now for something like fifteen years–hopefully, that will be finished and done this year.

I love to read about Kansas, and two of my favorite crime writers–Lori Roy and Sara Paretsky–are also from Kansas; Lori’s first novel, Bent Road (it’s brilliant, as is everything she writes) is set in Kansas; Sara, of course, primarily writes about Chicago but wrote a stand alone several years ago called Bleeding Kansas I’ve always wanted to get around to. Nancy Pickard also wrote two stunningly brilliant novels set in Kansas–The Virgin of Small Plains and The Scent of Rain and Lightning; I cannot recommend them enough. One cannot talk about Kansas books, either, without mentioning Truman Capote’s “true crime novel” In Cold Blood, which I like to reread every now and then.

There’s just something noir about Kansas; I don’t know how to describe it, or why it feels that way to me; but there’s just something about the wide open spaces and the wind, that Peyton Place-like feel to the small cities…Emporia (the county seat; we lived about eight miles out of town in an even smaller town called Americus) even had its own full blown scandal where a minister and the church secretary had an affair and murdered their spouses; it was even made into a two-part mini-series filmed on location in Emporia starring Jobeth Williams as the femme fatale. Those small towns, scattered all over the northern part of Lyon County, once thriving and bustling but now barely hand on when I lived there…the abandoned schools, still standing (they’d all been consolidated into one high school in the 1950’s) in the emptying little towns…our consolidated high school, out in the middle of the country with the football field backing up to a pasture; and the explosive boredom for teenagers. I always turn back to Kansas somehow, whenever I am thinking creatively or wanting to write a new short story–so much material, really. Emporia even had a cult; the old Presbyterian College of Emporia had gone bankrupt sometime in the early 1970’s and The Way International had bought the campus, turning it into The Way College of Emporia and I have to tell you, those kids from The Way College were terrifying–and there were lots of stories and urban legends about what went on there on that campus; how much was true I’ll probably never know, but I do know they used to have armed security guards patrolling the edge of campus, and every teenager knew not to ever get cornered anywhere with no possible escape by two or more of those kids….they always traveled in groups, never less than two and rarely more than six, but always in multiples of two. They always looked very clean cut, but you knew them by the nametags they were required to wear, their empty glassy eyes, and the big smiles on their faces.

There’s also the story of the bloody Benders, serial killers who operated an inn and murdered their guests in the nineteenth century before disappearing; I’m sure every nook and cranny of Kansas has some kind of horrible tale of murder hidden away.

And about three or four miles from our high school–you had to turn right when you reached the state road from Americus to get there; if you turned left towards Council Grove you’d pass this place: an abandoned nuclear missile base, that is still there. We used to go there sometimes for kicks–opening the door and listening to the strange sounds from deep inside and water dripping. I had plenty of nightmares about that missile base.

But the only other gay novelist I know from Kansas is Scott Heim (or at least the only one I know of who sometimes writes about Kansas). I read his debut novel Mysterious Skin sometime in the mid to late 1990’s, and was blown away by it (the film is also quite good). Mysterious Skin is set in Kansas, of course, and while it is a literary novel, and a quite good one, for me there were some elements of noir to the story; I have moved it to the The Reread Project pile and hope to get to it again relatively soon, so i can discuss it with more credibility and authority. I’ve not had the opportunity to read his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear, but I’m adding them to the “need to get a copy” list.

Over this past weekend I read a short story Scott wrote for Amazon; part of something called The Disorder Collection, along with stories from several other authors. You can buy “Loam” here; it’s well worth the ninety-nine cents.

We agreed to share the driving. The early-morning flights had left us feeling run-down, but my sisters said my eyes looked the least bleary, so I should drive first. The clouds had gone gray; it had started to rain. But we could take our time. The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood.

At the rental counter, a cheery, silver-haired clerk had offered us a white sedan, but Louise had disapproved. “A simple compact is fine,” she said, “and no extra options. Just make sure it’s as black as possible. Is ‘funeral black’ a color?” She’d glanced across the desk to Miriam and me, urging us to smile. No one had smiled since we’d met in the arrival lobby with hesitant hugs.

The clerk didn’t seem to grasp Louise’s reference, but when she collected our licenses, she was attentive enough to catch our dates of birth. She turned and yelled, “Girls, come look–triplets!”

It had been years since we’d been subjected to this kind of foolishness. We watched as her pair of coworkers stood from their desks and approached the counter. I could guess what was coming next: we didn’t look anything alike; we had varying shades of brown and blond hair; even our bodies and the ways we dressed, so different. Louise stopped their small talk before it could start, outstretching her hand to silence the room. “Look, our father just died, okay? Let’s sign what we need to sign and get this over with.”

One of the things I love about Heim’s work–and having only read one novel over twenty years ago and now this short story–is that he often writes about the aftereffects, and the aftermath, of traumas and how the victims deal and cope. This is something that interests me; I often think and wonder about how people who’ve dealt with something–my husband is a serial sex offender; my father murdered my mother, my grandfather was a serial killer–they had no control over cope and go on with their lives; I’m actually writing a story dealing with that sort of thing right now (one of the many stories I have in some sort of progress right now; it’s called “He Didn’t Kill Her”), and also those who were directly victimized–how do they deal? How do they cope? How do they go on with their lives after something so traumatic happens to them?

This is why this century’s reboots and sequels to Halloween interest me, because they show how Laurie Strode, years later, was psychologically damaged and who she became; one of the things I loved about the Scream films is they showed how everything that has happened to her has turned Sydney into a different person from who she imagined she’d be before the murders started.

Heim doesn’t write about the peripherally damaged; he writes about those who actually were damaged first-hand. In “Loam”, his triplets are clearly damaged by something that happened to them when they were children; they are returning to bury their father and clearly have not been back to Kansas in years. It isn’t clear what happened to them–it may have just been bad parenting in the beginning–and it isn’t until they stop at a second-hand store (what we used to call “junk shops” when I was a kid) and find some strange and mysterious pictures of their first grade classmates on a table that the memories of the past–and what they went through–begin to come to the fore.

I do wish Scott Heim would write more. This story, sad and dark and mysterious, is everything I love to read.

This: The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood–I wish I’d written that.

Buy it or borrow it if you have Amazon Prime. It’s very well worth the time.

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